Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The novel demonstrates virtues in action. There are major instances of faith, hope, and love in Rukmani’s life, but of these, hope is the greatest theme. Between the marriage of Rukmani (with its symbols of fertility and good fortune) and her widowhood lie many dire tests of this hope, but Nectar in a Sieve is characteristically Indian in its vindication of suffering and the attitude that, no matter what, life can go on.
The novel cleverly combines opposite symbols from the outset as if to suggest the pivotal conflict between hope and fear. The dry mango leaves garlanding the doorway to Rukmani and Nathan’s hut presage a barren future. Yet Nathan has a rich hoard of grain to counterbalance the pessimistic fear. Then, the three women who make themselves part of Rukmani’s village life combine opposites again: Kali’s ample size and sensuality and Kunthi’s physical allure are, at first, positive qualities in contrast to Janaki’s homeliness. They see only gain in the creation of the tannery—and so are opposed to Rukmani’s fear for the loss of pastoral innocence. Their false hope for a golden future is counterpointed by Rukmani’s fear for an irretrievable past, but by the end of the story, it is the trio who are defeated in various ways by life, whereas it is Rukmani who survives her afflictions.
Nature tests human hope by magnifying people’s fears, but in the end, though never subdued by man, nature is not granted the ultimate...
(The entire section is 359 words.)
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Rukmani experiences the changes typical of a young woman in her time. She marries a man she does not know, becomes a mother, and as she has more children, learns to share limited resources with more people.
Other changes, however, prove more difficult to accept. When the tannery comes to her town, she is deeply resistant to its effects on the village and its people. She comments, "Change I had known before, and it had been gradual.… But the change that now came into my life, into all our lives, blasting its way into our village, seemed wrought in the twinkling of an eye." To her, the tannery is destructive to their peaceful way of life, causes prices to increase, and encourages people to choose wayward paths. Although she eventually takes her husband's advice to be flexible, she does so only because she has little choice.
Getting used to change becomes a necessity in Rukmani's life. By the end of the story, her sons have grown and started their own lives, leaving her with an all but empty household. After her married daughter is returned by her husband for not bearing children, Rukmani considers Nathan's advice to get used to it because it is out of their control. She says:
It is true, one gets used to anything. I had got used to the noise and the smell of the tannery; they no longer affected me. I had seen the slow, calm beauty of our village wilt in the blast from town, and I...
(The entire section is 729 words.)